Research Papers

A Computational Aid for Problem Formulation in Early Conceptual Design

[+] Author and Article Information
Christopher J. MacLellan

e-mail: cjmaclel@asu.edu

Pat Langley

e-mail: langley@asu.edu
Computer Science,
Arizona State University,
Tempe, AZ 85281

Jami Shah

e-mail: jami.shah@asu.edu

Mahmoud Dinar

e-mail: mdinar@asu.edu
Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering,
Arizona State University,
Tempe, AZ 85281

Although we chose to decompose an artifact in this example, the designer might similarly decompose any of five entity types.

Although these rules are reasonably simple, one can imagine more sophisticated variants that could provide even more useful suggestions to designers, but the latter would remain responsible for deciding whether, and how, to respond.

1Present address: Christopher J. MacLellan, insititution: Carnegie Mellon University, e-mail: cmaclell@cs.cmu.edu.

2Present address: Pat Langley, institution: The University of Auckland, e-mail: p.langley@auckland.ac.nz.

Contributed by the Computers and Information Division of ASME for publication in the Journal of Computing and Information Science in Engineering. Manuscript received July 18, 2012; final manuscript received May 19, 2013; published online July 2, 2013. Editor: Bahram Ravani.

J. Comput. Inf. Sci. Eng 13(3), 031005 (Jul 02, 2013) (10 pages) Paper No: JCISE-12-1115; doi: 10.1115/1.4024714 History: Received July 18, 2012; Revised May 19, 2013

Conceptual design is a high-level cognitive activity that draws upon distinctive human mental abilities. An early and fundamental part of the design process is problem formulation, in which designers determine the structure of the problem space they will later search. Although many tools have been developed to aid the later stages of design, few tools exist that aid designers in the early stages. In this paper, we describe Problem Formulator, an interactive environment that focuses on this stage of the design process. This tool has representations and operations that let designers create, visualize, explore, and reflect on their formulations. Although this process remains entirely under the user's control, these capabilities make the system well positioned to aid the early stages of conceptual design.

Copyright © 2013 by ASME
Your Session has timed out. Please sign back in to continue.


Howard, T. J., Culley, S. J., and Dekoninck, E., 2008, “Describing the Creative Design Process by the Integration of Engineering Design and Cognitive Psychology Literature,” Des. Stud., 29(2), pp. 160–180. [CrossRef]
Christiaans, H. H. C. M., 1992, “Creativity in Design: The Role of Domain Knowledge in Designing,” Ph.D. thesis, Delft University of Technology, Lemma, BV.
Newell, A., and Simon, H. A., 1972, Human Problem Solving, Prentice-Hall, New York.
Simon, H. A., 1974, “The Structure of Ill Structured Problems,” Artif. Intell., 4(3), pp. 181–201. [CrossRef]
Chi, M. T. H., Feltovich, P. J., and Glaser, R., 1981, “Categorization and Representation of Physics Problems by Experts and Novices,” Cogn. Sci., 5, pp. 121–152. [CrossRef]
Hinsley, D. A., Hayes, J. R., and Simon, H. A., 1977, “From Words to Equations: Meaning and Representation in Algebra Word Problems,” Cognitive Processes in Comprehension, P. A.Carpenter and M. A.Just, eds., Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, pp. 89–106.
Hayes, J. R., and Simon, H. A., 1974, “Understanding Written Problem Instructions,” Knowledge and Cognition, L. W.Gregg, ed., Lawrence Erlbaum, Oxford.
Ohlsson, S., 1992, “Information-Processing Explanations of Insight and Related Phenomena,” Advances in the Psychology of Thinking, M. T.Keane and K. J.Gilhooly, eds., Harvester Wheatsheaf, London.
MacLellan, C., 2011, “An Elaboration Account of Insight,” ACS: Papers From the AAAI Fall Symposium, pp. 194–201.
Christiaans, H. H. C. M., and Dorst, K., 1992, “An Empirical Study Into Design Thinking,” Research in Design Thinking, N.Roozenburg and K.Dorst, eds., Delft University Press, Delft.
Fricke, G., 1999, “Successful Approaches in Dealing With Differently Precise Design Problems,” Des. Stud., 20(5), pp. 417–429. [CrossRef]
Christiaans, H. H. C. M., 1992, “Cognitive Models in Industrial Design Engineering: A Protocol Study,” Design Theory and Methodology, D. L.Taylor and D. A.Stauffer, eds., American Society of Mechanical Engineers, New York, pp. 131–140.
Atman, C. J., Chimka, J. R., and Bursic, K. M., 1999, “A Comparison of Freshman and Senior Engineering Design Processes,” Des. Stud., 20(2), pp. 131–152. [CrossRef]
Valkenburg, R., and Dorst, K., 1998, “The Reflective Practice of Design Teams,” Des. Stud., 19(3), pp. 249–271. [CrossRef]
Gero, J. S., 2004, “The Situated Function-Behaviour-Structure Framework,” Des. Stud., 25, pp. 373–391. [CrossRef]
Fricke, G., 1993, “Empirical Investigation of Successful Approaches When Dealing With Differently Precised Design Problems,” ICED, pp. 359–367.
Harfield, S., 2007, “On Design ‘Problematization’: Theorising Differences in Designed Outcomes,” Des. Stud., 28(2), pp. 159–173. [CrossRef]
Cross, N., and Dorst, K., 1998, “Co-Evolution of Problem and Solution Spaces in Creative Design: Observations From an Empirical Study,” Computational Models of Creative Design IV, J. S.Gero and M. L.Maher, eds., University of Sydney, New South Whales.
Maher, M. L., and Poon, J., 1996, “Modeling Design Exploration as Co-Evolution,” Comput.-Aided Civil Infrastruct. Eng., 11(3), pp. 195–209. [CrossRef]
Kolodner, J., and Wills, L. M., 1996, “Powers of Observation in Creative Design,” Des. Stud., 17(4), pp. 385–416. [CrossRef]
Dinar, M., Shah, J. J., Hunt, G. R., Campana, E., and Langley, P., 2011, “Towards a Formal Representation Model of Problem Formulation in Design,” IDETC/CIE, pp. 1–10.
Dinar, M., MacLellan, C., Danielescu, A., Shah, J. J., and Langley, P., 2012, “Beyond Function-Behavior-Structure,” DCC, J. S.Gero, ed.
Dinar, M., Shah, J. J., Langley, P., Hunt, G. R., and Campana, E., 2011, “A Structure for Representing Problem Formulation in Design,” ICED, S. J.Culley, B. J.Hicks, T. C.McAloone, T. J.Howard, and W.Chen, eds., pp. 392–401.
Kassoff, M., Zen, L.-M., Garg, A., and Genesereth, M., 2005, “PrediCalc: A Logical Spreadsheet Management System,” VLDB, pp. 1247–1250.
Novak, J., and Cañas, A. J., 2008, “The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and how to Construct and Use Them,” Technical Report IHMC CmapTools 2006-01 Rev 2008-01, Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, Pensacola, Florida.
Dorta, T., 2008, “Ideation and Design Flow Through the Hybrid Ideation Space,” Rev. Centro de Invest. Univ. La Salle, 8(29), pp. 25–30.
Gross, M. D., 1996, “The Electronic Cocktail Napkin—A Computational Environment for Working With Design Diagrams,” Des. Stud., 17(1), pp. 53–69. [CrossRef]
Mohan, M., Shah, J. J., and Narsale, S., 2012, “Capturing Ideation Paths for Discovery of Design Exploration Strategies in Conceptual Engineering Design,” DCC, J. S.Gero, ed.
Mohan, M., 2011, “A Framework for Holistic Ideation in Conceptual Design Based on Experiential Methods,” Ph.D. thesis, Arizona State University, ProQuest UMI.
Zlotin, B., Zusman, A., Altshuller, G., and Philatov, V., 1999, “Tools of Classical TRIZ,” Technical Report No. 266, Ideation International Inc., Ideation International Inc.
Sääksvuori, A., and Immonen, A., 2008, Product Lifecycle Management, Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
Bergsjö, D., Almefelt, L., Dinar, M., and Malmqvist, J., 2010, “Customizing Product Data Management for Systems Engineering in an Informal Lean-Influenced Organization,” Syst. Res. Forum, 4(1), pp. 101–120. [CrossRef]
Jennings, M., and Rangan, R., 2005, “Managing Complex Vehicle System Simulation Models for Automotive System Development,” ASME J. Comput. Inf. Sci. Eng., 4(4), pp. 372–378. [CrossRef]
Nagel, R. L., Perry, K., Stone, R. B., and McAdams, D. A., 2009, “FunctionCAD: A Functional Modeling Application Based Design Framework,” IDETC/CIE.
Stone, R. B., and Wood, K. L., 2000, “Development of a Functional Basis for Design,” ASME J. Mech. Des., 122, pp. 359–370. [CrossRef]
Bryant, C., McAdams, D. A., Stone, R. B., Kurtoglu, T., and Campbell, M., 2005, “A Computational Technique for Concept Generation,” IDETC/CIE.
Goel, A. K., Rugaber, S., and Vattam, S., 2009, “Structure, Behavior, and Function of Complex Systems: The Structure, Behavior, and Function Modeling Language,” Artif. Intell. Eng. Des. Anal. Manuf., 23(1), pp. 23–35. [CrossRef]


Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 1

The problem map ontology

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 2

An abstract coffee grinder design in Problem Formulator

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 3

Decomposition of the coffee grinder device artifact

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 4

Disjunctive decomposition of the coffee grinder device artifact in an earlier version of Problem Formulator

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 5

Disjunctive decomposition of the coffee grinder device in the latest version of Problem Formulator

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 6

Power transformation and its connected entities are highlighted when moused over

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 7

The dialog that pops up after clicking the add requirement button

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 8

The dialog that pops up after double clicking on a node with available decompositions

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 9

The designer dragging the grind coffee function into the must produce ground coffee requirement to create a link

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 10

The context menu that pops up when the designer right clicks on an entity

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 11

The electromotive force, induction, and mechanical work behaviors and their parent entities highlighted in successively lighter shades when a connected entity has been moused over

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 12

The do not operate when unsealed requirement and its parent entities highlighted in successively lighter shades by the search mechanism

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 13

The grind coffee entity is highlighted with red by Problem Formulator because it is currently unrealized by any artifact, implying that the user should connect it

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 14

A screen shot of the Problem Formulator tool with the completed coffee grinder example

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 15

System diagram for Problem Formulator

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 16

Database schema for Problem Formulator



Some tools below are only available to our subscribers or users with an online account.

Related Content

Customize your page view by dragging and repositioning the boxes below.

Related Journal Articles
Related eBook Content
Topic Collections

Sorry! You do not have access to this content. For assistance or to subscribe, please contact us:

  • TELEPHONE: 1-800-843-2763 (Toll-free in the USA)
  • EMAIL: asmedigitalcollection@asme.org
Sign In